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Conflict in Georgia: Thousands of children displaced and vulnerable

© UNICEF Georgia/2008/Volpe
UNICEF is working to provide emergency help for displaced people in Georgia, such as those at this camp near the Tbilisi International Airport.

GENEVA, Switzerland, 19 August 2008 – Children of different ages played in the yard of a Tbilisi kindergarten. More than 24 hours had passed since they left the conflict zone around South Ossetia, and some of them were still afraid to enter the building.

Giorgi Djebisashvili, 4, was being baptized in church of the city of Gori when bombs fell nearby. When the christening finished and the father came outside with both of his children, fire surrounded the church and the air was filled with the sound of explosions.

“We wanted our mother to be with us,” recalled Giorgi’s older sister, Nino. “Father rapidly pushed us towards the car and we moved off. From then I do not remember anything.”

‘Like a miracle to me’

The mother of the two children, Zinaida Djebisashvili, was at home in Medvriskhevi village watching the news on TV and waiting for her family to arrive. The newscast said Gori was under fire and the church, located near a military base, had been bombed.

“I came out and started screaming and calling out to the neighbors to help me. I was almost sure that I would never see my husband and children alive,” Ms. Djebisashvili said with tears in her eyes. “Soon my husband’s car appeared, and that was like a miracle to me. Then military helicopters appeared above our village and shelling began in our place too. So we fled to Tbilisi.”

The Djebisashvili family settled into a temporary shelter set up at a kindergarten in the Ponichala district of Tbilisi.

© UNICEF Georgia/2008/Volpe
UNICEF has launched a flash appeal to ensure the people displaced by the conflict in and around South Ossetia, Georgia, have access to basic services.

Flash appeal for the displaced

Nearly 160,000 people, many of them children and women, have been displaced as a result of the recent conflict in and around South Ossetia, Georgia. Many others have been killed and wounded.

UNICEF is still very concerned over lack of humanitarian access to affected areas. The organization has launched a flash appeal for $6.5 million to aid displaced children and families.

In Georgia, most of the estimated 128,600 displaced have been accommodated in 170 temporary facilities such as kindergartens, schools, and public and government buildings. However, many lack toilets, potable water and electricity. UNICEF has distributed nutritional and hygiene supplies and water-purification tablets to more than 4,000 people in the troubled region. In addition, UNICEF is planning to airlift School-in-a-Box and recreation kits, basic family kits, and water and sanitation materials for approximately 6,000 families.

In the Russian Federation, another 30,000 people – 80 per cent of them women and children – have crossed the border into North Ossetia and other regions. The Russian Emergency Response Ministry, EMERCOM, has been supporting the emergency needs of the displaced in 56 centres.

© UNICEF Georgia/2008/Volpe
A young girl from a displaced family tries to rest at a temporarily shelter in Tbilisi. Psychosocial services for children affected by the conflict are one of UNICEF's top priorities.

Temporary shelter in North Ossetia

Irma Janaeva, a mother from the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, calls it “a miracle” that she and her son Sarmat, 2, managed to get away from their village while other relatives stayed behind. They are now staying at a temporary accommodation centre located at a school in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia in the Russian Federation.

During the shelling, said Ms. Janaeva, she and Sarmat had to spend several days in the cellar with no food or basic necessities. Sarmat did not bear it well; according to his mother, he can’t step away from her, cries a lot and doesn’t sleep much.

“He is very capricious, nervous,” said Ms. Janaeva. “He needs to see a doctor.”

Psychosocial help for children at risk

As Sarmat’s story demonstrates, psychosocial services for children are urgently needed and are among UNICEF's top priorities.

Roland and Maya Mindiashvili’s three children – Fatima, 11, Milana, 8, and Khatuna, 6 – were among those who experienced heavy shelling when trying to flee their village of Kemerti in South Ossetia.

While the family was driving away, said Ms. Mindiashvili, “one of the helicopters was following us. We thought it was going to bomb us. The children were looking through the window and saw several houses exploding. Children were asking me: ‘Will we die if the bomb falls on our car?’”

Fatima tries not to think about what she has seen. “I want to serve as an example for my younger sisters, who still cannot sleep at night,” she said.

A chance to rebuild

In an empty room at the former headquarters of the Ministry of Finance in Tbilisi, the Mindiashvilis and other displaced families taking shelter have no beds and mattresses (though 100 beds provided by UNICEF Armenia have now arrived at four centres in Tbilisi). Milana and Khatuna do not have shoes. They wear dirty clothes and do not know if they will have enough food for the family.

Still, as they acknowledged, this is a minor misery compared to living through the bombing. Having survived that ordeal, they now want to return home.

“No matter that our house is looted, burned or destroyed we still want to be back home,” said Maya. “Now I realize how good it is to be alive. We do not ask for any help, but we urge for peace that will give us a chance to build our lives again.”



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